285. Telegram From Secretary of State Vance to the Department of State1

Secto 9016. Pass White House for Dr. Brzezinski. Department for Tarnoff. Subj: Report for the President.

1. I met this morning for two and one-half hours with Begin and the entire Security and Defense Committee of the Cabinet plus their senior aides, and for another two hours this afternoon with a smaller group consisting of Begin, Yadin, Weizman and Dayan plus several aides.2 I took the occasion of the larger meeting to convey our sense of urgency about getting negotiations moving, our desire to work closely with Israel on this, the importance we attach to face-to-face negotia [Page 1286] tions, and the risks we see if pressures to divert the negotiations to another forum succeed. I also stressed both our commitment to achieving arrangements that would protect Israel’s security and our judgment that it will be necessary to find a resolution of the territorial issue that is consistent with Resolution 242 and reaffirms the principle of withdrawal on all fronts.

2. Starting with Begin, most of the Ministers present stressed in one way or another the theme that Israeli security on the West Bank and Gaza must have a territorial dimension, pointing out that much has happened in the eleven years since Resolution 242 was passed, that Sinai, the West Bank and Gaza have become linked to Israel, and that we should be seeking a solution somewhere between the 1967 borders and the Likud Party’s platform which calls for permanent Israeli retention of all of the West Bank and Gaza. During both this meeting and the smaller afternoon meeting, the Israelis expressed their concern about what Sadat might do in October. We also went over again and again the basic question of whether the hardening of Sadat’s position is only a tactical device to put pressure on us or whether he is less able to be flexible today than he was several months ago. It is clear that there are differences within the Israeli Government about Sadat’s motives and real position, with Weizman tending more toward giving Sadat the benefit of the doubt than do the others. All the Israelis remain unanimous, however, that there can be no agreement to Sadat’s preconditions, prior to negotiations, that territory be excluded from negotiations.

3. I probed for a clearer statement of Israel’s position on the discussion of sovereignty after five years and, at one point, Begin seemed to agree that this meant not only that a solution was possible but that a decision would be reached. In the end, however, he returned to and stuck with the less clear formulation approved by the Cabinet although Yadin and Weizman continued to press for a broader interpretation. Overall, I would say there is genuine concern and uncertainty about what Sadat’s intentions are and a desire to see negotiations resumed, but no visible inclination to modify further, before negotiations at least, their position on the fundamental territorial question.

4. We also discussed the Lebanese situation in both the large and the smaller meeting.

5. I used the occasion to restate firmly our view that, in South Lebanon, one way or another, Lebanese Government forces must be able to establish themselves in the south if severe repercussions for the Sarkis regime and Israel’s international position are to be avoided. Following the morning meeting, the Prime Minister sent word to me it looked as though a solution was being worked out with Major Haddad, the Christian militia leader in the south, which holds out hope of defusing this issue.

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6. In northern Lebanon, the Israelis said they had received reports that an all-out Syrian attack is planned August 8–10 against some Christian elements. I agreed to send a telegram to Damascus asking the Syrian Government what the factual basis for these reports is.3

7. In our smaller meeting, Begin made a strong pitch for an early decision on Israel’s Matmon C arms request.4 He proposed an early visit by Weizman to Washington to discuss both hardware and payments problems including Israel’s request for an additional $500 million in military aid. I said I would be in touch with Harold Brown and would inform Begin by the end of this week whether our staff work has progressed to the point where it makes sense for Weizman to visit Washington now. On the additional $500 million, I discouraged Begin from any expectation that this would be possible.

8. I am sending separate telegrams on my private talks with Begin and my separate luncheon with Dayan on aspects of the West Bank problem.5

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153–1641. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Vance was in Jerusalem from August 5 to August 7.
  2. A summary of the meeting with the Security Committee is in Document 286. No memoranda of conversation have been found of either meeting.
  3. In telegram Secto 9014, August 6, Vance instructed the Chargé in Damascus to make an approach at the highest level to find out if there was any validity to reports of a large-scale military action planned for August 8 to August 10 in Lebanon. Vance stated “that renewal of fighting would raise unacceptable risks,” and he asked “that Syrian influence be used to this end.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780322–0426)
  4. See footnote 5, Document 130.
  5. In telegram Secto 2170 from Jerusalem, August 6, Vance briefly described a private morning meeting with Begin and a private afternoon meeting with Begin. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P85033–0292) No telegram summarizing the luncheon with Dayan has been found. Presumably it was during one of the private meetings with Begin that Vance delivered Carter’s invitation to meet with him and Sadat at Camp David. According to Carter’s August 6 diary entry, “In the evening we got word from Vance that Begin had responded enthusiastically, almost emotionally, in favor of the summit meeting at Camp David.” (White House Diary, p. 212)